Look Who's Taking Back Control

Democratic checks and balances were put in place for a reason – and this week we saw them in action
POOL New / Reuters

For democrats on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, this has been a good week. And Lord knows, we haven’t had many of those over the past few months.

When I say democrats, by the way, I mean both democrats with a small d and Democrats with a capital D. So let’s take them one by one.

First, the small d democrats at Westminster who still believe in the old-fashioned theory that parliament’s job is to hold the executive to account. Thanks to eleven principled Conservative rebels, that is exactly what the House of Commons did on Wednesday night, when MPs defeated the government on its Brexit bill.

Irony of ironies, it was the threat of Tory rebellions that spooked David Cameron into his in-out referendum promise in the first place – and now it’s a Tory rebellion that throws a spanner in the works as Theresa May tries to fudge her way out of the mess he gaily left behind.

(I was tempted to say the rebels had thrown a Spaniard in the works, which is the name of a book of nonsense published by John Lennon in 1965, but in the context of Brexit, it doesn’t seem entirely appropriate.)

The fact that the former attorney-general Dominic Grieve, who was the architect of the amendment that defeated Mrs May, and who is by common consent one of the most decent MPs at Westminster, has now been receiving death threats tells us something truly unpleasant about the more extremist elements who have bubbled up out of the Brexit mud.

And yes, I include the Daily Mail, whose front page on Thursday, adorned with mug shots of all eleven Tory rebels and the headline ‘Proud of yourselves?’, was shameful even by that paper’s own shameful standards.

Mrs May told EU leaders in Brussels that despite her Commons defeat, she is ‘still in control’. I call that Fake News – because it’s parliament that’s in control, which is exactly as it should be. Not that this week’s vote will make much real difference to the eventual outcome, but it has at least served to remind this panicky, weak government that we do still live in a parliamentary democracy, in which parliament is sovereign.

You might even say that it has taken back control – which is, of course, exactly what the Leave campaigners insisted they wanted all along.

“Mr Trump will not be in the White House forever, and the Johnson-Gove Tendency in the Tory party will not run rampant forever”

So what about the capital D Democrats on the other side of the Pond? It may not be easy if you do not share my obsessive interest in US politics to fathom the seismic nature of this week’s Senate election in Alabama, so here’s a reminder from yesteryear: this is the state where the ‘segregation for ever’ former governor, George Wallace, won a massive sixty-five per cent of the vote when he ran for President in 1968.

The election this week of Doug Jones was the first time for twenty-five years that the state has elected a Democratic Party senator, and it was, according to the Washington Post, a ‘stunning set-back for the Republican party’.

What it means is that it will be even more difficult for Donald Trump to get any of his legislative proposals through the US Senate, which is now split between 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats. It also means that Democrats – and democrats – have seen that it is perfectly possible to defeat bigotry, ignorance and the ugliest form of extreme demagoguery.

(The Republican candidate Roy Moore believes homosexuality should be illegal and that ‘abortion, sodomy and materialism have taken the place of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ He is also alleged to have sexually assaulted several young women and a 14-year-old girl, allegations that he has denied.)

I admit it’s not all good news. The appalling Mr Moore may have lost the election, but he still won 48.4% of the vote. The Democrat Doug Jones won only because 95% of Alabama’s African-American voters backed him, compared to a mere 27% of whites.

For me, the lesson is simply this: whether it’s Donald Trump or the hardest of hard Brexiteers, nothing is inevitable. They can be defeated, by honest men and women casting their votes according to their conscience. Of course, there will be more setbacks, for both democrats and Democrats, but the worst mistake they could make is to give in to despair.

Mr Trump will not be in the White House forever, and the Johnson-Gove Tendency in the Tory party will not run rampant forever. Democratic checks and balances were put in place for a reason – and this week we saw them in action.